After Olympic success, coach Max Leabman reflects on Woodward Copper’s role in U.S. snowboarding’s progression
If you’re a U.S. pro snowboarder like Summit County’s Chris Corning, Red Gerard or Kyle Mack, chances are Woodward Copper coach Max Leabman has put you through “The Spin Cycle.”
Long before Gerard won an Olympic slopestyle gold, long before Mack won Olympic big air silver and long before Corning sewed up the 2018 FIS overall snowboard season championship, all three were energetic kids taking part in games like the Spin Cycle at the Woodward Copper Barn at Copper Mountain Resort.
The game requires you to jump up from Woodward’s indoor trampolines and rotate, say, 180 degrees to either the right or left, before landing sideways as if snowboarding down the hill. The trick is, snowboarders like the Silverthorne trio then have to immediately rotate 180 degrees in the other direction, and then 360 degrees in the opposite direction, and so on and so forth.
“It really takes the ultimate amount of coordination,” Leabman said. “You are anticipating your landings and reversing directions, which takes a lot of strength and control as well.”
It’s a way to create both team camaraderie and competition in the individualistic sport that is freestyle snowboarding. And, whether it is one of the Silverthorne trio or another elite U.S. freestyle snowboarder — like Steamboat Springs’ Taylor Gold — legendary one-on-one Spin Cycle showdowns are not uncommon inside The Barn.
“Taylor and I ended up going all the way 1080 to 1080, so both directions,” Leabman said. “And he did it with a hurt ankle.”
In the wake of Team USA’s resounding freestyle snowboarding and skiing success at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, it’s grassroots facilities like Woodward Copper and youth coaches like Leabman that are receiving credit as huge parts of the national program’s success. And, at that, led by the 17-year-old Gerard, Team USA’s freestyle shredders in 2018 achieved gold, silver and bronze glory despite their relative youth.
To Leabman, the success in South Korea was the result of a past decade in U.S. snowboarding where young guys like Gerard routinely both played and practiced at facilities like Woodward Copper. They were at the Barn rather than looking to progress their skills strictly via the “huck-and-hope” method Leabman said snowboarders of the previous generation had to rely on.
“From ages 10 to 13 Red practically lived in here,” Leabman said. “It was really interesting. He’d come in here and it was this incredible balance of talent and still this, like, childlike enjoyment. He’d step onto the super trampoline, throw like 15 different doubles (tricks) specifically using a different snowboard style, practicing the specific grabs to throw the different doubles. And then he’d go play tag for 30 minutes.”
The Barn is the hub of the Woodward Copper campus and the resort’s action sports playground, which will play host to weekly action sports camps this summer, beginning June 3. And it’s inside the Barn, high above the facility’s trampolines, where the Spin Cycle and other games like it are hosted by Leabman. Over the past decade, at Copper and at Woodward’s Tahoe facility, Leabman has gone from camper, to barn coach to, as of last month, on-snow coach supervisor.
Through his own journey from camper to coach, Leabman has risen up the ranks of the snowboard-coaching world at the same time guys like Corning, Gerard and Mack blossomed from his wide-eyed childhood campers to High Country household names.
“You could tell from before they even hit double-digits like, ‘this kid is going places,’” Leabman said of the trio.
Now one of the handful of 300-level U.S. Ski and Snowboard freestyle coaches in the country, Leabman is nearly a decade away from the time he met Gerard. Back then, future coach actually competed against future pupil at a Colorado rail jam. And, in that decade, the former soccer coach has continually fine-tuned the best way to reach young future stars like Gerard. Even if that means his or someone else’s improvement requires something as unrelated to snowboarding as a macaroni noodle.
“You’re referencing video games, or comic book characters, or maybe their favorite type of food,” Leabman said. “A macaroni noodle is exactly the right shape your body is supposed to be in for arching and starting your backflip.”
When he attempted his cutting-edge quad-cork 1800 at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Corning was not compared to a macaroni noodle but, rather, a “human Cuisinart” food processor by the announcer. It’s a move that requires the 18-year-old X Games bronze medalist to invert four times while rotating a full 360-degrees five times.
A dozen years ago at the 2006 Torino Winter Olympics — around the time when guys like the Silverthorne trio were just getting into the sport — the biggest trick snowboard legend Shaun White threw down on the Olympic halfpipe was a 1080. Twelve years later, Leabman is confident games like the Spin Cycle helped progress the sport to the point where Corning can now land his 1800 — two more full spins than White’s 1800.
And he’s confident Woodward Barn games like “Add-On” helped young cats like Gerard and Mack win Olympic slopestyle gold and big air silver respectively. Because to Leabman, games like Spin Cycle and Add-On incentivize creative thinking from a stylistic wild card like Mack.
Case in point: long before Leabman was one of the few worldwide to know Mack was going to pull off his trademark, atypical “Bloody Dracula” hold on a 1440 to win the Olympic big air silver, Leabman was pushing Mack to add on tricks sky-high above the Barn’s trampolines.
“I would throw just the weirdest trick I could possibly think of at him,” Leabman said, “and he’ll try it a couple of times. And be like, ‘Ah, I don’t know. I’m not feeling it.’ And then come back a week later and he’s got it perfect and added a whole different twist on it that I never even thought of.”
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